Moot Court Preliminary Rounds
The MIG 2022 preliminary rounds of moot court occurred in the afternoon of Friday, March 4 in Plaza 1 and Conference Center 2 of the Wyndham Springfield City Centre.
Moot court is a simulation of court proceedings wherein participants, usually law students, participate in oral argument about a fictitious case. There were a total of six teams comprised of 12 students from Eastern Illinois University and Millikin University who participated in this year’s simulation.
The case to be discussed this year will be Cade Beasley v. Madison County School Board. Beasley, who is a high school senior at Griffin Prep, located in Madison County, IL, describes himself as a devout Christian who refused to receive the Covid-19 vaccine because of religious beliefs. While attending a Friday evening Griffin Prep football game that occurred in a city-owned park, Beasley held up a sign that read “Dunnigan is a dictator. Refuse the jab. Save your souls.” The “jab,” in this case, is a reference to the Covid-19 vaccine.
The following Monday, Beasley was disciplined by the school. Beasley sued the school board for “an alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights to free speech, religious freedoms and other injuries.”
The two issues that moot court participants had to argue were whether a public school has the authority to discipline “a student for political speech held off the school’s premises, but during an extracurricular event on school-operated property.” And whether the public school’s vaccine requirement violates a student’s right to uphold their religious beliefs.
The first two teams to participate in Plaza 1 were Team 1, Collin Budd and Olivia Swords of Millikin University and Team 2, Ella Collins and Ellie Krouse of Eastern Illinois University (EIU).
Each team has 30 minutes to argue their case. Then, the judges score them on their performance. Like in most competitions, those with higher scores advance to the next round. Budd and Swords, representing the petitioner, the Madison County School Board, began their arguments first.
Budd, acting as lead counsel, argued the first issue. The first relevant case that he referenced was Bethel v. Fraser, wherein Matthew Fraser, a high school student, nominated a fellow student in an assembly for a student government position and in doing so, referred to him in a sexual metaphor.
The metaphor caused a majority of the attendants to hoot and holler. The following day the principal said Fraser’s speech violated the school’s disruptive-conduct rule. He then was suspended for three days and proceeded to sue the school on the grounds of infringement on his freedom of speech.
Budd referenced this case because like Fraser, Beasley’s signage also caused 75 minutes worth of classroom disruptions the following Monday, with one student even mimicking the language of the sign verbatim while in class.
He then referenced Tinker v. Fraser wherein students at a public school in Iowa wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam war. The school suspended the students stating that the armbands could cause disruption in the classroom.
In that case, “the Court stated that the anti-Vietnam War armbands that students wore at school were considered political speech that could only be prohibited if it "substantially disrupts” the educational process.”
The last case to be referenced was Morse v. Frederick, a student in Juneau, Alaska was suspended for holding a sign that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” while attending an Olympic Torch Relay during a school-supervised event. The Supreme Court found that Frederick’s speech was not political, as in Tinker, and could be viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
Swords argued issue two and stated that the school’s primary goal was maintaining the health of students and that school boards can not accommodate every student individually, only generally. She also stated that the Covid virus was a legitimate state interest and therefore, the school’s reasoning for not including religious exemptions in its mandate were justified.
Swords used the example of Jacobson v. Massachusetts which states that a state may enact a compulsory vaccination law. In this case, the school board is acting as an arbiter of the State. The school board’s mandatory vaccination requirement holds exemptions for those with medical conditions that prevent them from receiving the vaccine, but not for religious or philosophical reasons.
Both Budd and Swords were well-composed and held great decorum.
Ella Collins of EIU was the lead counsel representing Beasley and the issue that she argued was in regards to Beasley’s freedom of speech stated in the First Amendment. The grounds for his freedom of speech were that he was off-campus and thus his speech was unable to be regulated. Secondly, Collins referenced Tinker, which was an action that occurred while on-campus.
Collins said that the stadium where the game was played was public domain and it doesn’t become school property even though the school commissioned it for the event. Collins used the Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. as an example for this.
Mahanoy states that public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech. However, in that case, the school’s interests were not enough to overcome B.L.’s interest in free speech.
Collins stated that Mahanoy laid out a three-prong outline. “The first point, as stated before, is that the school is not a normal practice in this situation,” said Collins. “The second point is that if a school is regulating a student's speech, when they are off campus, as well as when they're on campus, it means that they're regulating that student speech over the entire 24 hour day, which means that would not be speech that could be uttered at all.” The third point is that schools have traditionally had an interest in protecting unpopular speech.
Ellie Krouse, also of EIU, argued that the schools resolution was not a neutral generally applicable regulatory law and therefore, should be viewed under the strict scrutiny test. Secondly, it fails the strict scrutiny test. Strict scrutiny is the highest standard of review a court will use to to evaluate the constitutionality of government (school board) discrimination.
Krouse also used the case of Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, a contemporary and topical case, as an example. This case held that Gov. Cuomo of New York was not able to limit the amount of people able to gather in a religious setting despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Tandon v. Newsom also stated something similar. California was not able to enforce restrictions on private gatherings as applied to at-home religious gatherings.
Lastly, the judges asked if the school would not have an interest in letting the number of unvaccinated students in the building. Team 1’s rebuttal was that there was no clear line between on and off campus and that the school did have interest in acting for the care of Beasley while he was at a school-sanctioned event and that Beasley did indirectly disrupt learning the following Monday
The judges who oversaw this round were former Chief Justice Paula Ascensio, Jesse Mell and Brock Hammond.
The two teams who participated in Round 2 of the preliminary round in Plaza 1 were Lyn Long and Sophia Dickey of EIU and Colin Budd and Olivia Swords of Millikin University.
This time around, Long and Dickey represented the school board while Budd and Swords represented Beasley. Long held that Beasley’s actions proved to be a bad influence amongst the other students.
Judge Mell inquired as to how Beasley encouraged misbehavior. To which Long responded that one student made a sign with the same language and another shouted the language at another event. Long stated that Beasley encouraged other students to not get vaccinated and thus the school had to take action.
Cocounsel Dickey covered the religious aspect and argued that there was clear and compelling interest in protecting students from the transmission of Covid-19. Dickey introduced another relevant case into the argument: George v. Kankakee Cmty Coll. wherein a student sued Kankakee Community College for infringement on his freedom of religion. Long and Dickey did great, but could have used a little more refining. Thankfully, that’s what preliminary rounds are for.
Budd and Swords showcased their ability to represent the defense with the same poise and confidence as they had in the first round.
By: Ryland Pietras